Derek Damon knew 2019-20 would be his final season of professional hockey before it even began.

The Bangor native and 1999 Saint Dominic Academy graduate wasn’t going to take anything for granted.

“Last summer, my wife (Andrea) and I, we really felt like it was the right time to play this year and to really enjoy this last season and tried to get as much as I can out of it — soak in all of it, going to the rink every day because hockey has given me so much good in my life,” Damon said.

Derek Damon shoots the puck with Heilbronner Falken this past season. The Bangor native and former St. Dom’s and University of Maine standout recently retired after 14 seasons of professional hockey. Submitted photo

Damon, 39, who played at the University of Maine for four seasons from 2002-06, wasn’t on a ceremonial retirement tour in his 14th and final pro season. He was still an offensive threat, putting up 20 goals and 38 assists in 50 games, which ranked second in scoring on Heilbronner Falken of the Deutschen Eishockey Liga 2, the second-tier professional league in Germany, before the season was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Damon served as team captain for both of his seasons with the Heilbronner Falken.

CONSISTENT PRODUCER

Soon after his college career ended in 2005-06, Damon played three games for the Lowell Lock Monsters of the American Hockey League, at the time the affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

His spent his first full professional season, 2006-07, with the Florida Everblades, the Hurricanes’ ECHL affiliate. Damon was with the Everblades again the following season and led the team in scoring (25 goals and 50 assists). He also played 15 games that year with Carolina’s new AHL team, the Albany River Rats.

After two seasons in the top two minor leagues in North America, Damon moved to Europe, where he played for 12 years.

His first stop was Finland’s top league where played for Assat in 2008-09, followed by a season with the Kassel Huskies in Germany’s top league. From 2010-13, Damon played for Villacher SV in Austria’s top league. Then came three seasons (2013-16) with HC Thurgau in Switzerland’s second league, and then two seasons in Denmark with SonderjyskE before finishing his career with Heilbronner Falken.

In each of his 12 seasons in Europe, Damon ranked in the top five on his team in scoring.

That consistency helped him have the long career that he did in Europe, where teams are limited on how many North American players they can have.

“It’s different (wherever you go). In Switzerland, you are only allowed two imports in the league I played in and four imports in the top league in Switzerland,” Damon said. “When you are playing with four imports or two imports, you realize how fortunate you are to be in that situation. There’s also a tremendous amount of pressure, being an import (player) in Europe. It’s not easy because you are counted on to score goals, put up points and help your team win.”

TRANSFERRING TO ST. DOM’S

Damon knew if he wanted to have a career in hockey, he had to leave Bangor.

So, after spending his first two years of high school at John Bapst Memorial High School, he transferred to St. Dom’s for his junior and senior seasons, serving as a captain his senior year.

Damon was the piece that put the Saints over the top.

“We knew who he was,” St. Dom’s teammate Joe Dumais said. “He was really good at John Bapst, and when we heard he was kind of coming, it was a big deal. A lot of guys and a lot of people were saying, ‘We are getting this kid from John Bapst and he’s a really good player,’ he was kind of the missing piece. We were a really good team without him, but with him, we thought that was the missing high-end scorer and overall point producer that we needed.”

Damon fit right in with his new St. Dom’s teammates, as he was a rink rat and an overall sports junkie.

“Derek was a competitor, he liked to win, which we all did,” Twin City Thunder owner Ben Gray, who played goalie on those St. Dom’s teams, said. “He was a leader on the team, he always put the team first, and like everyone else (on the team) was big into hockey and wanted to make that his full-time gig.”

Damon said that the pressure he felt to be an import player in Europe dated back to his time at St. Dom’s.

“A lot goes back to throughout my whole life and growing up and playing in high school, I liked that pressure and playing under that pressure at St. Dom’s,” Damon said. “I was counted on to be a key player — along with myself, Joe Dumais and Greg Moore (in 1998-99), even the year before that Mike Viscarelli, we were counted on to score. The year we won the state championship in ’99, I loved having that opportunity to go out there and be relied on in key moments.”

Damon came through in the biggest game of the 1998-99 season, scoring the game-winner in overtime to give St. Dom’s a 2-1 victory over North Yarmouth Academy and the Class A state championship. The title game win capped off the first undefeated high school season (the Saints went 19-0-1) in Maine in 26 seasons.

Damon was also named a Travis Roy Award finalist that season. The award ultimately went to Chad Hart of Waterville.

Damon said that some of his favorite memories from his time at St. Dom’s were the rivalry games.

“Another memory that pops up when I think about St. Dom’s and hockey is playing against our rival Lewiston, and all those games at the sold out (Central Maine Civic Center, now known as the Androscoggin Bank Colisee),” he said. “It was such a great experience and actually prepared me to play in front of big crowds when I was at Maine and pro hockey. You never get tired playing against crowds like that, where the games are so passionate and they bring out the best in each (team).”

Derek Damon dekes out a goalie. The former St. Dom’s standout played 12 of his 14 seasons in Europe. Submitted photo

BACK HOME TO PLAY FOR UMAINE

After graduating from St. Dom’s and playing two years of junior hockey with the Exeter Snow Devils of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Damon returned to the Greater Bangor area to join the University of Maine men’s hockey team for the 2001-02 season.

“When it came down to it, it was an easy decision, and it was something that I dreamt about, going to play at Maine,” Damon said. “To be able to play with Greg (Moore) was even a bigger thrill.”

Damon’s first season with the Black Bears started off on a sad note. Legendary coach Shawn Walsh, who Derek’s father, a pilot, often flew around on recruiting trips, died from renal cell carcinoma.

Tim Whitehead, who Walsh hand-selected to be his successor, thought redshirting Damon would better prepare him for NCAA Division I hockey.

“I practiced him a lot on defense, which he hated, but I think at the end even he admitted it was a good thing for him,” Whitehead said. “It forced him to really become a complete player. He had always been a gifted offensive player, but that year, practicing defense against some of the best players in the country gave him an opportunity, he was forced to defend.”

Following his redshirt season, Damon was a part of a graduating class, along with high school teammate Greg Moore (2002-06), that made the NCAA tournament all four seasons, reached the Frozen Four twice and made one national title game appearance, in 2004. Damon appeared to give the Black Bears a 1-0 lead over the University of Denver five minutes into the 2004 national championship game, but teammate Mike Hamilton’s skate was ruled to have been in the crease, which at the time was against the rules. Denver ended up winning 1-0, denying UMaine a national championship.

It took some time, but Damon has gotten over the goal that was taken away.

“I use to think about it a lot more. At the time it was really difficult because the reason the goal was called off, it was meaningless and had no impact on the play,” Damon said. “At the time, it was really difficult. But as time goes on, time heals. You look back on what a great opportunity it was for us to be in a national championship game. I was able to play in a national championship game, two Frozen Fours … and four NCAA tournaments. That’s impressive to be a part of that.”

In 160 career games with the Black Bears, Damon scored 51 goals and had 60 assists. His 111 points ranks second among Maine natives to play for the Black Bears, behind only Mike McHugh of Bowdoin (1984-88).

“He’s one of my favorite UMaine Black Bears, growing up in Bangor, as he did, he lived and breathed Maine hockey,” said Whitehead, who’s now the boys varsity coach at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. “It was an absolute pleasure to see him develop and grow into one of the best players in Maine history. … More importantly, Derek was a great teammate, a great kid and he set an outstanding example for kids in Maine.”

NEXT CHAPTER

Damon hopes to stay involved in hockey and use the master’s degree in sports management her earned from Southern New Hampshire University. He might even follow his high school linemates into coaching. Moore is currently the head coach of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, while Dumais is the associate head coach of the men’s team at Quinnipiac University, where he played from 2002-06.

“It’s everything that I have ever done, and seven years ago I decided I wanted to get my master’s in (sports) management because I would love to be in a management role in hockey one day, in some sort of fashion,” Damon said. “There’s a lot of different opportunities and avenues that I am looking into right now for either coaching or management.

“We will see what happens … but my goal is to stay in hockey because I have a big passion for it.”


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